LONDON, (Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, fighting extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, walked free on bail from a British jail yesterday protesting his innocence and pledging to continue exposing official secrets.
A weary-looking Assange spoke to a crowd of journalists and supporters waiting in the snow outside Britain’s High Court five hours after a judge said he could be released on 200,000 pounds ($312,000) bail under stringent conditions.
“It’s great to smell fresh air of London again,” Assange, illuminated by a blizzard of photographers’ flashes, said.
“I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter,” said the 39-year-old Australian, flanked by his lawyers. WikiLeaks has angered U.S. authorities by publishing hundreds of a trove of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, including details of overseas installations that Washington regards as vital to its security.
Assange thanked “all the people around the world who have had faith in me”, and the British justice system “where if justice is not always an outcome, at least it is not dead yet”.
Assange, wearing a dark suit and open-necked white shirt, brandished court papers titled “Swedish Judicial Authority vs Julian Paul Assange”. He was then driven away in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Assange has spent nine days in a London jail after Sweden issued an arrest warrant for him over allegations of sexual misconduct made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers. Assange denies the accusations. Assange told reporters soon after his release that he was more concerned the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden.
Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that U.S. prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents.
“We have a rumour today from my lawyers in the United States, it’s not confirmed yet, that there has been an indictment made against me in the United States,” Assange said.
The New York Times said on Wednesday federal prosecutors were looking for evidence that he had conspired with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified documents.